Swimming across that river, walking up that hill, with no problems.
“Would you like a piece of water melon?” said the old veteran Strider. “Sure, thanks!” I replied as we hiked ever upwards to the Pluviometer. We continued chatting. Other 6-footers were walking ahead of us in ones and twos.
“Have you done this before?” I asked. “Yes.” He replied. “Last year I started with the 7am group for runners over 60 but it was lonely until the leaders came past on the Mini Mini hill. I couldn’t believe it – they were sprinting up that hill. It was amazing. This year I wanted company so I started with group three.” “How have you trained for it?” I asked. “Well, I’ve had a number of runs over this section of the course. I start at the top and it takes me an hour to run down and an hour forty-five to walk back up.”
As we marched towards the summit we continued talking. ‘Veteran Strider’ said there was about a kilometre to go. My mind drifted thinking what had brought me to this place in the middle of the glorious Blue Mountains wilderness. I was having a battle with my conscience. I couldn’t help feeling I’d done the wrong thing by leaving Jennifer back on the climb up to the Mini Mini saddle. After all, she was the one who talked me into running this brilliant event for the first time in 2004. That year her training had been interrupted by a hamstring injury and she’d been forced to retire at the last Aid Station before the Pluviometer.
Riding in my brother’s car
Yesterday after driving up from Canberra I collected Jennifer and Kikoe from Linda’s place at Bella Vista. I’d only got bushed once finding my way over to the Windsor Road. After a pleasant drive up the mountain we arrived at Katoomba, unpacked and went straight out for a meal at the Indian restaurant. Then it was back down to the Edge Theatre to collect our race packages. It was after 9pm and I was amazed to see Plu there helping Kevin. I recognised Plu from the photos on his blog. We had a short chat. He said “Run with Horrie and you’ll catch me at the Pluviometer”. I had a laugh replying “I don’t think so!” Jennifer and I checked our timing chips on the lap-top then headed ‘home’ for an early night.
I woke at 6am and before organising my race gear and preparing breakfast I walked outside to check conditions. I was quite comfortable in a T-shirt and shorts which was slightly worrying. I immediately started drinking! I was nervously anticipating what would unfold over the next eight hours. I was more excited than last year. Then it was just a feeling of blind ignorance – I had no idea what I was in for. This year I knew all too well what lay ahead. The most difficult course for a race I’d ever experienced in my life.
This year I’d trained more seriously with some good long runs over the half decent hills of Mt. Majura and Mt. Ainslie. Some of these were with experienced ultra runners Steve Appleby and Carol Baird. I felt good and confident. After a breakfast of toast, honey and coffee we jumped in the car for the short drive to Catalina Park. I parked on the actual abandoned race track along with a few other late comers. It was hard to believe I used to watch televised ‘Rallycross’ from this venue when I was a kid! We had arrived about 7.20am and joined the end of a very long bus queue.
Mister G (Sean Greenhill) was near the front of the queue and I just had time to shake hands and wish him well. I said “I hope I don’t catch you”. I knew there was no way that was going to happen! He was strong in the head having run from the Coast to Mt. Kosciuszko and had been doing some serious speedwork in recent months. I was surprised to see Mick Charlton in the queue. Mick runs with Geoff’s group on Monday nights but he hadn’t mentioned anything about running the Six Foot!
We ran out of that valley down to where the fields were green
Jennifer was worried but hopeful about how the day would go. Last year she’d slipped on the steps and jarred her back which, along with the dodgy hamstring, caused her eventual retirement. This time she’d run well in December and early January but had done little since then because of a busy work schedule at Stanford. I just said “think positive”.
We caught the last shuttle bus to the start arriving about 8.17am. Three minutes before the Wave 3 start! There was no time for me to get nervous or look for runners I knew, just enough for a quick dash to a nearby Porta-tree. Race director Kevin kept us calm and thoughtful by warning about the broken bones, twisted ankles and lost skin that results every year at the Six Foot. The gun was fired and we were off into the known and unknown.
I was keen to move closer to the middle of the pack before the steps but Jen was quite tentative on this section so I eased back a tad. It seemed there were only a dozen or so behind us at the start of the steps. Two that stood out were Ski-man who was running with two ski poles and Knee-man who had both knees heavily bandaged – in anticipation or prevention I wondered. While we carefully negotiated the steps I had a chat with a bloke who also wore a Forerunner 201 GPS. My Forerunner-man wasn’t working too well in the cool shaded darkness of Nellie’s Glen. He was like a blind man with a cane. We arrived at the bottom in 31 minutes.
The run to the Megalong Valley Road is on a beautiful sandy fire trail and predominantly flat to downhill. Running a few 5:25 kilometres we caught small groups of other stragglers on this section including NRG-couple. I’d been drinking continuously mouthfuls of ‘Thorpedo advanced hydration ultra low GI energy water’! I also wore a ‘Fuel Belt’ which carried four small bottles and a couple of Gu gels. As it was going to be a long day I also carried a vegemite sandwich in a plastic bag and some jelly beans in my pocket. My hydration was good as I stopped at two Porta-trees during the 2 hours 10 minutes it took to run to the Cox’s River.
The 5 kilometres or so of single track running down to the river is one of my favourite parts of the Six Foot. We were running with small groups who were gradually catching us from behind. NRG-couple went ahead as did a couple from Vancouver. She wore a ‘Kneeknacker 30 mile’ shirt which had a course profile showing two massive snow-capped mountains. I ran sections of the single track then walked the uphill bits while Jen caught up. She wasn’t great with this sort of ‘technical’ running. I was feeling pretty clever on one section when I put my right foot too close to the edge of the track. Bad move! The edge crumbled and I was tumbling off the track. I grabbed some shrubbery in the nick of time and scrambled embarrassedly back up. Luckily no damage – just skin off my left knee, small cuts on my hands, a red face and covered in dust.
And into the river I dive
At the Cox’s River I decided to wade through in order to cool off. I knew about the stepping stones upstream as I used these last year. I decided this route was for wimps and wanted the full Cox’s River experience. I took off my shoes and held them above my head. I guessed what might be the best (shallow) way across and, feeling clever again, kicked a boulder with my right shin, tripped over, dropped my shoes in the water and went swimming! Jen crossed with poise and ran on while I sat on a chair at the Rural Fire Service Aid Station and sorted myself out.
I caught Jennifer on the way up to the Mini Mini Saddle. I said “Keep walking, I’ll wait at the next Aid Station”. I walked this entire 4 kilometre hill but at a ‘decent’ pace passing quite a few other walkers including Ski-man. I was worried about our schedule. This year we were six minutes slower to the Cox’s River and right on the advertised cut-off. While waiting for Jen at the Cattle-yards Aid Station I ate my vegemite sandwich and topped up my Thorpedo Bottle with High5 which had a similar taste to red cordial. Very thirst quenching!
I got a shock when Cam Arnold rounded the corner carrying Action’s 7-hour broom. He asked how I was doing and I said “fine, no problems”. Soon Jennifer arrived and we set off walking slowly up the nasty steep pinch to the top of Mini Mini. Cam had disappeared into the distance and I was seriously getting worried about our chances of being caught by the ‘Grim Reapers’. These are the two guys who mercifully tell runners who won’t make it to the finish to ‘sit down and have a rest’ (they actually thrash you to a pulp for being ambitiously silly and drag you off the course to bury you under a Banksia bush). I discussed our dire situation and Jen said “you go on”. Reluctantly I did and soon was 100 metres ahead. I immediately felt regretful and selfish. I knew she could finish but not inside the 7 hour time limit.
At the top of Mini Mini I was surprised to see Cam was waiting and encouraging myself and other stragglers to get moving on the downhill. He said we were about 5 minutes behind 7-hour pace. On the run down to the Alum Creek Camping Ground I selected the ‘angel gear’ and passed quite a few runners including the Kneeknackers. A little later I spotted NRG-couple. She was standing in the middle of the track taking a photo of him next to a stray dairy cow! I thought ‘perhaps if I run the Kneeknacker 30 mile I’ll be photographing a Canadian black bear’. At the Alum Aid Station I asked for Vaseline. A kindly St John’s Ambulance officer obliged. I put it on my heels where I felt some blisters appearing.
I managed to negotiate the next two creeks on the stepping stones. Okay, so I was a bit of a girlie-wuss but I didn’t want to soak my almost dry shoes and socks. Soon it was the long hike up to the Pluviometer. I walked briskly and overtook quite a few people including Ski-man again who must have passed by when I was sitting at Alum Creek. After the last Aid Station before the summit I caught ‘Veteran Strider’ which is where this story started.
Is a dream a lie if it doesn’t come true?
I crossed the welcome timing mats at the Pluviometer in 4 hours 6 minutes – the same time as last year and 4 minutes ahead of ‘cut-off’. There was a fair crowd of runners at the Pluvi. Some were talking to the helpers and a few were sitting on chairs looking pretty knocked about and obviously waiting for the next meat wagon. My mate Bruce had ridden his mountain bike down from Caves Road to witness the drama. “Who’s winning” I said. “Dan Green by a mile with an unknown female coming about tenth – people can’t believe it!” I said “That would be Emma Murray from Canberra”. I had picked her to win with ‘daylight’ coming second. Emma would smash the race record finishing in an incredible 3 hours 44 minutes and 5 seconds to place eighth overall!
After a couple of cups of ‘Coke’ I set off in a similar fashion to last year to run as much of the next 19 kilometres to the finish as I could. I felt that I was running about 6:30 per kilometre pace but I still caught many runners – some walking, some jogging slowly. Not too many were ‘looking good’.
On the wonderfully shaded section called ‘The Deviation’ I walked the nasty steep bits and arrived at the Caves Road Aid Station feeling reasonably okay and in control. I spotted Mick Charlton up ahead which got the competitive juices flowing and I set about trying to catch him. He was looking good and running well. I caught him on the single track and we had a short chat. As he let me pass I said “only about 7 kilometres to go”.
I ran through the RTA dump site. This was good. It was here where I had to do some walking last year. At the Binda Flats Aid Station I had another two cups of warm Coke – it tasted so good! I saw a kangaroo next to the track near the oval observing proceedings. I hoped Skippy would still be there when the Kneeknackers arrived. The fire trail after the oval was nice and smooth this year which suited my Cliffy shuffle. I passed many more runners on this section including one groaning in pain and one walking backwards down the hill.
Down in the Valley
When I hit the single track I thought ‘bugger it’ and let fly. I overtook maybe another six or seven runners warning them “coming on your right” and trying not to upset their progress down the hill. All too soon the paved section arrived and Caves House was in full view. I can’t think of a more welcoming finish to a running event. I ran around the corner. A couple of people yelled out ‘go Ewen’ which I appreciated. Then the short straight and under the finish clock. It said 6:18:10. What a long day!
I found a place to sit down and had a chat to Mick when he arrived. Jennifer was waiting and she looked in good shape and not distressed at all. She’d had an ‘exciting’ trip to the finish in the 4WD including nearly slipping off the track on the Deviation. She was frustrated and disappointed at not being able to finish. Although I felt fine after finishing, pretty soon I needed to lie down. I found a rare vacant bench down near the tunnel. Very soon Linda arrived in the car and we were off back to Katoomba for a lovely meal that evening on the balcony of the Indian with a view watching a magnificent sunset.
I must say that I love this run. I haven’t had a bad experience yet so maybe that helps. I wish ’93 winner Malcolm Satchell had been successful in convincing me to run it while I was living in Sydney in the late eighties. Already I’m thinking about 2006. I can’t wait!